This second stay in Pingpu, Xinhua and me were not able to stay with the Liu family as we did in March and April. The biggest reason is because June is harvest season for many farmers here, including the Liu family. Liu Lin, the patriarch, farms 300 mu (50 acres), and while he has five seasonal workers, that is still a ton of wheat (in this case) to collect. Countryside people also tend to be pretty traditional [Case in point, Feng Xiao’s boyfriend came to visit her in April. Though they had been dating for three years, he was made to understand that he could not share a bed with her, so he had to share a bed with Xinhua instead.], and there’s some speculation that Liu Lin might also not be too keen on us staying in the same house as his wife during warm summer months when fewer clothes are worn. Regardless, we had to find new accommodations, and the only option, given the timing, was a hotel in the township.
There are few small hotels here, but we chose the Beautiful Cloud Hotel because of its combination of rate and conditions. It’s run by a man named Wang and his wife. Wang is former cadre who seems to have a sort of advisory role at this point. He didn’t make the best first impression. When he met me after we first arrived, he immediately started talking about international politics, especially US and Japanese meddling in the South China Sea, loudly and inches from my face. I took it as a combination of condescending and aggressive. I did my best to be polite, but it was a struggle. So I was surprised when, upon subsequent encounters, it became clear he was glad I was there. Really glad. About a week later, as Xinhua and me were leaving for interviews, he put his arm around me. “I don’t much like your government,” he said. “But I like you.” It’s very rare for Chinese men, especially of his generation and background, to act like this, so I was sort of at a loss for words.
But the strangeness had just started. A few days later, at about 7:30 am and while Xinhua and me were still sleeping, he used his key to come into our room. He was wearing only an undershirt, boxer shorts and sandals. “Are you both still sleeping?” he said. He sat down on the spare bed and talked to us for about 20 minutes about a range of topics, but mostly about how lucky we were to be staying in his nice hotel, and to get such a generous long-term stay discount. “Adu (my Chinese nickname), am I right?” said. “Do I have a choice?” I wondered. “You’re right Mr. Wang,” I said. “We’re very lucky.” After he left, I turned to Xinhua. “This is not a normal hotel.”
About four days later, at about 9 pm, he did the exact same thing, this time reclining on the spare bed in his underwear to tell us how lucky we were.
On this my last night in Pingpu, he insisted that we take photos together outside his hotel, and that they printed immediately for us as souvenirs. Then he gave me his card and told me I’m welcome back any time. It was a sweet gesture.
That said, if this is my last post, you might want to go looking for me at the Beautiful Cloud Hotel.